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3 Mar, 2023 15:10

Ukraine crisis overshadows foreign ministers’ meeting at G20

A joint statement remained elusive as India failed to bridge the gap between the US-led Western bloc and the Russia-China axis
Ukraine crisis overshadows foreign ministers’ meeting at G20

India’s attempts to prevent the Ukraine conflict from overshadowing the G20 foreign ministers’ meeting, which concluded in New Delhi on Thursday, have eventually proven unsuccessful.

Altogether 40 participants – 19 member countries, including India, as the rotating president of the goup, the 27-member European Union, nine special invitee nations, and 13 international organizations – attended the high-profile gathering in the lead-up to the summit in the Indian capital in September. In the end, the two opposing blocs – the US-led Western nations and Russia together with China – failed to reconcile their differences over Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine, which entered its second year last week.

The outcome came along widely expected lines and left India, which has been caught in a diplomatic balancing act between the two camps, with no option but to issue a ‘chair’s summary and outcome document’ in which it summed up the two days of talks and acknowledged the disagreements.

Trading jabs over Ukraine

The growing tensions over the Ukraine situation dominated the meeting, despite Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging the assembled foreign ministers in a virtual address to set aside their differences and find consensus in a multilateral world.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had a brief meeting on the sidelines of the gathering, which Lavrov later characterized as an “angry” exchange. In his statement at the summit, Blinken took direct aim at Moscow, saying that the gathering was “marred by Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war” in Ukraine. Lavrov, for his part, accused the West of turning the G20 into “a circus” and of “burying” a deal to facilitate grain exports from Ukraine.

A rare address by PM Modi

Modi, who in the tradition of his ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party is known to speak in Hindi – India’s national language – on global platforms, made a marked departure and delivered his remarks in English. 

He sought to drive home New Delhi’s growing stature in front of the foreign ministers from the world’s 18 wealthiest nations and the EU, which together account for 85% of global economic output and two-thirds of the global population.

He spoke on behalf of the countries of the Global South and reminded the attendees of a shared responsibility to them while invoking the slogan India chose for its G20 presidency: ‘One Earth, One Family, One Future.’

“After years of progress, we are at risk today of moving back on the sustainable development goals. Many developing countries are struggling with unsustainable debts while trying to ensure food and energy security,” he said.

“They are also most affected by global warming caused by richer countries. This is why India’s G20 presidency has tried to give a voice to the Global South.”

Later, India’s Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, a career diplomat-turned-politician, acknowledged during a media briefing that the geopolitical tensions over the Ukraine situation had polarized the world, making it impossible to issue a joint statement. He said that the outcome document adopted instead delineated a raft of issues of global concern, such as food security, development cooperation, terrorism, and humanitarian assistance.

Thursday’s outcome document echoed last weekend’s meeting of G20 finance ministers in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru. In the first ministerial-level meeting ahead of the September summit, a consensus could not be reached because of “different assessments of the situation” in Ukraine.

The outcome document

Jaishankar echoed Modi’s statement that multilateralism is in crisis, cited the “the knock-on” effect on the Global South of the Ukraine situation, and obliquely pointed out New Delhi’s failure to “bridge the gap” between the two opposing blocs.

“G20 Foreign Ministers met in New Delhi at a time when the world faces multi-dimensional challenges ranging from insufficient progress towards Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss, to economic slowdown, debt distress, uneven pandemic recovery, growing poverty and inequality, food and energy insecurity and global supply chain disruptions, aggravated by geo-political tensions and conflicts,” the outcome document opens, before detailing statements on various topics, such as strengthening multilateralism, food and energy security, climate change and biodiversity, and others.

Two of the opening paragraphs of the document were specifically objected to by Russia and China. The third paragraph deems the Ukraine situation responsible for existing global economic fragilities, including increasing inflation, supply chain disruption and growing food and energy insecurity. It says most countries condemned the war and asks for Russia’s “complete and unconditional” withdrawal from the territory of Ukraine. 

Paragraph four focuses on the humanitarian side, usage of weapons and ways to resolve Russia’s military operation. Both paragraphs were taken from the G20 Bali Leaders’ Declaration made in November 2022. They were also used in a similar outcome document released after the G20 finance ministers’ meeting last week, which were likewise rejected by Russia and China.